Sunday, January 20, 2008

Wassailing, Somerset 2008

In the days when Christmas Day was celebrated on 5 January Twelfth Night was celebrated twelve days later on 17 January. This date is now known as Old Twelfth Night and is a traditional date for festivities throughout the cider making counties of England.

Glastonbury holds its celebration in the wonderful fourteenth-century Abbey Barn which is part of the Somerset Rural Life Museum. The fun involves drinking cider, eating cake, and trudging out to the apple orchard to make a libation and to scare away the evil spirits. So everyone turns up on a cold damp evening wearing wellies and warm jackets. The really nice thing about this event is that there was a real whiff of authenticity about it. The Master of Ceremonies was Bernard Coulter of the Somerset Levellers Band who swept us through the history and evidence and the claims for tradition with a healthy and scholarly scepticism and then launched us into some of the old wassailing songs with gusto. When I tell you that one of them is about the time when the Danes were a menace locally and how King Alfred got rid of them you will understand that we are going back a bit! We have long memories in Somerset!

First comes the cake, Somerset Apple Cake, handed round to everyone. It is moist with apple and spiced with cinnamon and crackling with brown sugar. Someone will find a bean in their piece, and they will become the King or Queen of the Wassail and be crowned with a wreath of green leaves. They are entitled to issue an edict – our King wished everyone to be happy for the night – and their reign lasts until midnight.

Led by the King, holding a triple handled wassail cup filled with cider and a two pronged fork with a piece of toast soaked in cider, we process out to the orchard. The cider is sprinkled around the base of the apple tree, for a good harvest to come; the toast is placed in the boughs, for the robin; and a shot is fired into the branches, to ward off evil spirits.

Then we all go back into the barn, for mulled cider and dancing and you’d be amazed how light footed you can be with wellies on your feet and cider in your belly!

Somerset Apple Cake

12 oz self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
8 oz margarine/butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
6 oz caster sugar
4 oz sultanas
1 lb cooking apples, finely chopped
3 eggs
a little milk
a little demerara sugar

Rub the fat into the flour and salt. Add the sugar and cinnamon. Make a well in the mixture and drop in the egg and fruit. Mix well; if the dough is a little too stiff, add some milk.

Place in an eight-inch greased cake tin, and sprinkle a little demerara sugar on the top.

Bake for one-and-a-half hours, in a moderate oven (Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F). Allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a cooling rack.

This cake is better if you wrap it up in foil or waxed paper for a day or two.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.